Test Drive: 2016 BMW 340i xDrive

It’s not easy being King. Especially when the enemies are scaling the ramparts and you’ve, er, gone a little soft in the bottom. Oh, BMW 3 Series, it’s not your fault. Lay the blame at the feet of all those courtly minions who, when making you over for 2012, decided the masses didn’t want their King to be quite so cut. They thought you’d be better off a bit bigger and a tad more cuddly. All about the votes you know.

Enough of this frou-frou. Is King-y sporting a six-pack under his newish duds? In the case of the 2016 340i, you bet. An all new 3.0L straight-six-pack, actually.

Granted, this switch from ripped to relaxed has not exactly hurt your appeal. The Dukes, Lords, Ladies, and countless serfs still sing your praises o’er hill and dale. It’s just that a few of truly faithful who fought shoulder to shoulder with you in years past have been wondering about that extra paunch. Will King-y ever swing the blade with such force and accuracy again, or is it time to trot over yonder to the kingdoms of Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar and Cadillac?

Cue the trumpet fanfare. There he is! Our King reborn. Long live the… oh wait. It’s just a mid-cycle refresh. Fine, we’ll take it. Luckily, there’s more to King-y version 2.0 than meets the eye.

Only the keenest BMW 3 Series nerds will spot what’s new here. External tweaks to the 2016 3 Series are subtle – LED taillights, more angular headlights (standard LED on the 340i), and recontoured rear and front fascia - the latter with larger outboard air intakes.

The interior also get the light-touch treatment. Architecture remains the same, with just the addition of some extra bright4work and some new ambient lighting. The navigation benefits from improved performance, faster start up and over-the-air map updates.

While the 3’s interior might not have the obsessive detailing of the new new Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class, it is luxurious, pleasant to the eye and touch, and is a proven winner in the obtuse art of ergonomics. The driving position is spot on, the meaty steering wheel fills you paws, and the seats are magical in their blend of support and comfort.

Once familiar with this latest version of iDrive, it’s an easy system to negotiate. I particularly like the buttons around the rotary controller that with their varying topography make selecting media, radio, nav, back, etc a no-look exercise – once you memorize their positions. Radio preset buttons mean less fiddling.

Yes, yes, oh worthy knights. Enough of this frou-frou. Is King-y sporting a six-pack under his newish duds? In the case of the 2016 340i, you bet. An all new 3.0L straight-six-pack, actually.

Battle Royale: Comparison Test: 2016 BMW 340i xDrive vs 2016 Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG

Under the hood, the old 3.0L N55 turbo inline-six (300 hp, 300 lb-ft) makes way for a new 3.0L, codenamed B58. Yes, the cylinders are still all in a row and it sports a single twin-scroll turbocharger, but the architecture is new – an expansion of BMW’s modular EfficientDynamics family that includes the 1.5L three-cylinder and 2.0L four-cylinder. Output of this six jumps to 320 hp and 330 lb-ft. while delivering better performance, less weight and increased fuel economy.

Two transmissions carry forward – the eight-speed ZF manumatic and a six-speed manual. There is no price differentiation between the two. However. new for 2016, the auto gets wider spaced ratios and the manual has a rev-matching function.

BMW has also spruced up the 3’s dynamics. To reduce flexing and improve steering control, the sedan gets stiffened strut towers and five suspension anchor points (vs three). Dampers have been revised for sharper handing and there’s a new electric power steering module. Furthermore, the dynamic spread between Comfort and Sport modes has widened, so when prodded, King-y is lighter on his feet.

Time to jump in this 2016 BMW 340i xDrive to find out. Base price is $54,500 (up a mere $500 from the 2015 335i xDrive). This tester is fitted with the eight-speed auto and $1,900 M Performance package that bestows M Sport brakes with blue calipers, adaptive M suspension, variable sport steering and 19-inch double-spoked alloys with staggered tires (225/40R19 front and 255/35R19 rear). This being winter, I’m making do with 18-inch winter tires.

This new engine is a peach – turbine smooth with a linear power delivery, and it happily charges to the 7,000 rpm. Although with max torque available from 1,380, it’s just as happy to hum along in the lower reaches of the tach. There’s a nice fruity soundtrack (although artificially enhanced) that escalates in a very refined manner when gathering speed. Which the 2016 BMW 340i xDrive does exceedingly well. This is a quick car, helped in no small part by the near flawless ZF-sourced transmission. It does fine work on its own, but if you want to use the paddles, response is instant.

Select Sport mode using the console mounted rocker switch, and the suspension firms up, the steering gets a bit more weight, throttle response sharpens, the tranny gets aggressive while the stability control backs off. Despite running on winter tires, it was immediately apparent this 3 is a sharper driving tool than the previous model.

Nothing flows like a BMW sedan on its game, and here we see that intangible combo of poise, speed, refinement, sweet-six sound, and, most pointedly, engagement. The 340 wants to play. The revised steering feels meatier, quicker and more connected. Yet perfectly natural.

So King-y has recouped his mojo. But that’s not to say he’s turned his back on the finer things in life. The 340i is still very much a luxury conveyance, delivering a compliant and quiet ride. And I can’t say enough about those seats – obviously beamed down from some kind of divine seat-making-place that only BMW knows about.

This tester came with the $6,500 Premium Package Enhanced that could be considered mandatory. Deep breath – alarm, universal remote, comfort access, rearview camera, electric rear sunshade, manual side shades, auto dimming exterior mirrors, heated rear seats, part assist front and rear, high beam assist, active blind spot detection, surround view, head-up display, SiriusXM, speed limit warning, BMW Connected Drive Services Package and an excellent HarmanKardon sound system.

Purists will gravitate to the rear-drive 340i with six-speed manual, starting at $51,900. Consider it a gift from the folks at BMW, as I doubt they’ll move too many of those. But as a nod to the select core who cherish what the 3 Series has stood for all these years, it’s a significant gesture. You won’t find a six-speed manual, rear-drive, six cylinder compact sports sedan in the Mercedes or Audi stables.

King-y is back up on the ramparts, swinging his battle axe and yelling, “Bring it on!”

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Audi S4
Cadillac ATS 3.6L AWD
Infiniti Q50S AWD
Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport
Volvo S60 R AWD

2016 BMW 340i xDrive
2016 BMW 340i xDrive
Base Price $54,500
Optional Equipment Premium Package Enhanced $6,500; M Performance Package $1,900; Individual Paint $1,450, Individual Interior $1,900
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $68,445
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
7 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
8 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy